When our kids were very young, after a few particularly challenging days where I may have had a few moments of what later became christened by our daughter as “Mom’s having a Hurricane of Madness” – I was pondering the impact left from these moments of impatience and harshly spoken words. I realized that no parent was perfect and that children had to learn that everyone had limits that should be respected. Nonetheless, I knew the power of harsh criticism, and how it hurts to be snapped at, or brushed off in irritation. I didn’t want those to be the moments the kids remembered.
Now, I have a serious annoyance scale. In fact, I actually sent this to my son just two days ago:
See? Seriously Annoyed. Proof.
So even all those years ago, I was not daft enough to believe that all the best intentions in the universe were going to result in my always having patience, always speaking perfectly kindly, always answering every question with the detail it deserved, always negotiating a reasonable compromise, or always having a spirit of calm. No. If that was what it took to make sure my kids knew that I adored them and liked being with them…well…we were in big trouble. There had to be a better idea. One that had a chance of actually working, that is.
I had already been keeping journals for each of them, which I meticulously maintained and turned over to them on their sixteenth birthdays – when I explained that they were now the authors of their own stories. But they weren’t seeing those – they were kept safely in my office and updated regularly for their future meanders down memory lane. In them, they certainly see their lives through my eyes but I tried also to be true to their feelings and perspectives as I believed them to be at the time. And it’s kind of cool to see the first sixteen years of your life captured in honest-to-goodness pen and ink, in handwriting, in bound paper books. Who knew that would be such a neat concept?
So, I wondered, what if I made them books and called them “For Your Eyes Only”. I would write in them notes that captured how I really felt about them on ordinary days. Just between us. Just because. Then, when I had been short with them, or lost patience and raised my voice, or became intolerant, or if we had a conflict, there would be a balance. Because let’s face it, every kid runs to their room to jump on their bed, cover up their head and cry, wishing they had another mother – prettier, smarter, a better cook, a better singer, more athletic, sexier, – oh wait – sorry, wrong list. That’s who I want to be when I go to my room and cover my head… OK! Back to the point…kids have moments where they feel unloved, misunderstood, frustrated, unfairly treated. And some of those feelings may be accurate but they are often the result of misunderstandings, tiredness, rushing, overscheduling, or legitimate discipline that they just aren’t happy about.
So, I started the “For Your Eyes Only” books. The first notes are printed, double spaced, simple words – so they were young. I would make an entry and then turn the book face-down, open, on the bed. They would see it the next time they walked into their rooms. Inside would be a little gem reminding them how much I liked them. They were unexpected, and unearned. Just unconditional ordinary-day love notes. The front of the book reminded them that if they ever needed to know how I felt about them, all they had to do was pick up their “For Your Eyes Only” and they would know. I apologized for ever being impatient or frustrated, unfair or unkind. I promised that every word I wrote in the book was the truth about what they meant to me.
I never asked about the notes and they just read them and put their books back on their shelves where they could be found again the next time I went to drop a nugget of lovingkindness. Then, when he was about eight, our son suddenly started up a book for me by using a blank journal someone had given him. I found it, face-down and open, waiting on my bed one day. And oh how my heart soared. He got it. He understood. And he knew that he needed to tell us how he felt about us too, even when his behaviour had been challenging. Of course, it was a novelty, and he only wrote in it a handful of times before it got lost in the years of his growing. I often wondered where it had ever ended up.
So imagine my surprise when my now college student was re-organizing his room last week and I walked into MY room and found that very same book – facedown, open, waiting on my pillow. With a note inside that said, “Remember these Mom?” Oh, yes. I remember. And I am so glad he does too.
I still get seriously annoyed (as evidenced above). I have been known to announce, “everything is irritating me right now”. I like tidy, punctual, respectful, kind, considerate, responsible behaviour and I expect it in our home. But nobody is perfect. Not even me. So I am so glad my kids know that all that is just bluster, and it doesn’t change what they mean to me. They still have their “For Your Eyes Only” books, but I hope they carry that knowledge deep within their grown selves. That, in my eyes, they have always been so much more than enough.